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How Can Journalists Learn SEO, and Why Should They Care About It?

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Search engine optimisation is essential to get your content out there and attract more readers. And it's not as scary or technical as it sounds.

How Can Journalists Learn SEO, and Why Should They Care About It?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) can help an article appear higher in Google searches and drive more readers to the publisher's website. It is also becoming an essential skill for journalists, but it can be challenging to know what to focus on as every publication does it differently.

Some SEO tools and programmes used by news organisations are too expensive for freelancers, but there is still a lot you can do to improve your SEO skills from home if you are looking for opportunities where this is required.

SEO journalists do not usually write about a specific topic or area: Malvika Padin, SEO journalist for several titles. "We write about whatever people are looking for. It can be something from the news or a unique search. There is scope, but it is very diverse."

She adds that working in SEO can be an excellent way to start your career, as you can "experiment a bit with different topics", which could help you discover a talent or passion for a field you had not considered before.

Journalists are often great SEO copywriters, said Jill Starley-Grainger, journalist and head of content at Proof Content. As long as you understand the parameters, it's no different than any other assignment, she explained. The quality of copy that journalists can deliver to their clients contributes to good performance, as readers spend more time engaging with quality copy.

DIY Training

If you want to build your skills and knowledge, many free online resources are available. The Beginner's Guide to SEO, from Moz, is a comprehensive collection of almost everything you need to know. The first few chapters may be enough to develop an understanding of SEO.

If you need a more practical, test-based introduction, Google Digital Garage's Fundamentals of Digital Marketing course is also accessible for free. It's business-focused but still helpful and an excellent introduction to SEO. Should you have a budget for training that is more specific to journalism, take a look at the NCTJ’s Journalism Skills Academy.

Knowing the critical SEO terms and what they mean is a good start. You will be given a list of 'key terms' to write around or include in most cases. Keywords and key phrases are the terms that people type into search engines.

"You need to figure out which term is most important and try to create a headline around that term," says Starley-Grainger. Making headings and subheadings, SEO-friendly can help your pages and websites rank better with Google and other search engines.

It's not just about the words on the page either, and links are crucial too. If the page of your article does not contain any links or other pages that a reader can click on, it will be called a "dead end" and will have no chance of reaching the first page of search results.

SEO Tools

While you may not have access to the tools that large companies can afford, there are still free tools that can help you improve your SEO skills. Google Trends can help you identify keywords and phrases that are currently popular, while Google Keyword Planner can help you choose the right keywords when you are searching for something specific. You can also analyse keywords with tools like Ubersuggest and Answer the Public to find out what people are searching for.

Keyword Sheeter is another tool that pulls up a variety of Google autocompletes for any search term and helps you discover topics you may not have thought of.

After all, no topic does not have its newsletter, and SEO is no exception. Check out SEO for Google News and WTF is SEO? Two great emails to help publishers understand the topic.

Do not forget the most important rule in your SEO journey: always write for people, not for the search engines. Not only is this the point of good journalism, but Google is quick to recognise "over-optimised" content and downgrade it.

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